Bullpen Shutdowns and Meltdowns

The save — and the blown save — have received plenty of press in Philadelphia over the past two years. Brad Lidge, of course, converted all 48 of his save opportunities in 2008. Last year, he converted only 31 of 42 (74%). Ryan Madson has received some heat from Phillies fans and the media for a seeming inability to convert saves. He has converted four saves in six opportunities, but his last failed attempt resulted in his kicking a metal folding chair and breaking his toe, sidelining him for at least two months. Last year, Madson converted 10 of 16 opportunities (62.5%).

Of course, if you have read any Sabermetric takes on the save, you are aware of its flaws. For one, a reliever can be credited with a blown save prior to the ninth inning, but he can only be credited with a save if he finishes the game in the ninth inning or later. That means that non-closers (like Madson was prior to the last month of 2009) will have save conversion rates that aren’t representative of actual skill. There’s also “The Wes Littleton Save”. Take a look at the score of this game and then look at what is next to Littleton’s name in the box score. The Rangers, Littleton’s team, won 30-3 over the Orioles and Littleton was credited with a save. MLB’s official rules state, “Credit a pitcher with a save when he […] pitches effectively for at least three innings.”

Most Sabermetricians have scrapped the save statistic and for good reason. Many have worked to develop a way to accurately depict a reliever’s skills and contributions. I believe Jeff Zimmerman of Royals Review, inspired by Tom Tango, may be on the right track. For Royals relievers, he logged each pitcher’s “shutdowns” and “meltdowns”. A shutdown is when a reliever increases his team’s chances of winning by five percent and a meltdown is when a reliever decreases his team’s chances of winning by five percent. While the cut-off point of five percent is arbitrary, it is better than using saves (and holds) because it is blind to actual bullpen roles and focuses solely on performance.

There are still problems with S&M (ha, get it?), such as that a pitcher will still be penalized for events beyond his control. For example, if Jose Contreras does exactly what he’s supposed to do and induces a bunch of ground balls, but Wilson Valdez misplays a couple and allows several runs to score, Contreras will still bear the blame. It logs results, not performance. The most you can conclude from this is that, “Player A did or did not contribute to helping his team win in X games,” not “Player A is a good/bad pitcher”.  With that in mind, here are this year’s Shutdowns and Meltdowns. I also included INH% which is the percentage of inherited runners each reliever allowed to score (note that INH% is much less meaningful for relievers with defined roles, such as closer and set-up).

Before we jump to the numbers, you may be asking, “Five percent — what?” Take this chart of last night’s 4-0 win over the Cardinals as an example. Head over to the “play log” and look at the top of the ninth inning. Heading into the inning, the Phillies had a 98.4% chance to win the game. When Jose Contreras got David Freese to ground out to end the game the Phillies, of course, had a 100% chance, a difference of 1.6% or .016. That is Contreras’ Win Percent Added (WPA) to the game. It does not qualify for Shutdown or Meltdown consideration. That is an example of how a reliever increases or decreases his team’s chance of winning a game.

Without further ado, this year’s relief corps:

Pitcher (2010) APP Shutdowns Meltdowns DIFF INH%
Durbin 9 5 0 5 0%
Contreras 10 5 1 4 0%
Bastardo 7 1 0 1 0%
Lidge 3 1 0 1 0%
Madson 9 3 3 0 50%
Figueroa 5 2 2 0 50%
Romero 3 0 0 0 0%
Herndon 10 1 2 -1 33%
Baez 12 1 4 -3 0%

It is interesting to note how evenly-split the “opportunities” are: Contreras and Madson have six, Durbin and Baez have five, Figueroa has four, and Herndon has three. With Lidge and Romero having started the season on the DL, the Phillies were forced to make a bullpen out of a motley crew.

Last year’s relievers:

Pitcher (2009) APP Shutdowns Meltdowns DIFF INH%
Madson 79 35 12 23 0%
Park 38 16 4 12 32%
Eyre 42 13 4 9 23%
Durbin 59 18 12 6 23%
Lidge 67 20 15 5 17%
Romero 21 8 3 5 11%
Walker 32 8 3 5 55%
Moyer 5 4 0 4 0%
Condrey 45 10 7 3 29%
Myers 8 3 1 2 0%
Bastardo 1 0 0 0 0%
Carpenter 2 0 0 0 0%
Escalona 14 1 1 0 25%
Happ 12 2 2 0 20%
Kendrick 7 2 2 0 100%
Register 1 0 0 0 0%
Taschner 24 3 3 0 13%
Lopez 2 0 2 -2 100%

WFC relievers:

Pitcher (2008) APP Shutdowns Meltdowns DIFF INH%
Lidge 72 38 4 34 100%
Romero 81 32 13 19 28%
Madson 76 25 8 17 35%
Durbin 71 28 15 13 33%
Gordon 34 19 7 12 33%
Eyre 19 13 4 9 25%
Seanez 42 10 7 3 21%
Condrey 56 7 5 2 29%
Carpenter 1 0 0 0 0%
Happ 4 1 1 0 0%
Kendrick 1 0 0 0 0%
Eaton 2 0 1 -1 0%
Walrond 6 1 2 -1 25%
Swindle 3 0 2 -2 100%

A tip of the cap, as always, to Tom Tango and Jeff Zimmerman.

Carlos Ruiz Walking the Walk

Can you guess who leads the Phillies in on-base percentage?

Yeah, it’s Chase Utley. Probably shouldn’t have made it that easy. How about who’s second behind Utley?

That would be Carlos Ruiz. That’s right: the #8 hitter, the catcher, has drawn 18 walks in 81 plate appearances. His OBP is just a shade behind Utley’s, .432 to .440. Utley leads the National League, but Ruiz is tied for fifth with the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier. Ruiz’s .432 OBP is 76 points higher than the current NL average of .356 for #8 hitters and 75 points higher than the .357 average for catchers.

Ruiz’s walk rate has increased every season since he came up to the Majors, from 6.4% in 2006 to 12.4% last year. Great numbers of course, but it’s highly unlikely that Ruiz will finish with a .400+ OBP given that he currently sports a .347 BABIP compared to a career average .266 and given that he is drawing walks at roughly 10% higher than his previous career high rate. Overall, though, this is a great sign from a player who had a 6.6% walk rate throughout his Minor League career.

Some of Ruiz’s non-intentional walks (16 of 18) are those “unintentional intentional walks” as he bats in front of a weak-hitting pitcher. 8 of his 18 walks have come in 22 plate appearances (36%) with two outs. 5 of his 18 walks have come in 13 plate appearances (38%) with two outs and runners in scoring position. There’s no doubt that Ruiz’s high walk rate is due to managers telling their pitchers to pitch around him to get to the pitcher.

Ruiz still has to draw the walks, though. Houston’s Humberto Quintero, also a catcher who hits eighth, has drawn exactly one walk in 33 PA in front of the pitcher. Washington’s Wil Nieves has drawn zero walks hitting eighth. Ruiz clearly understands the situation and accepts that the bat is being taken out of his hands, not unlike Barry Bonds circa 2002-04 (and thus concludes the only time you will ever see Ruiz compared to Bonds). As Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler will tell you, it’s good to get the pitcher out of the way with two outs in an inning so he isn’t leading off the next inning making an easy out.

The one thing we have not seen from Ruiz yet, perhaps as a result of not being able to swing as much, is power (this is where Ruiz and Bonds part ways). His .317 SLG is nearly 60 points lower than his career average and 108 points lower than it was last year. His isolated power (ISO = SLG – AVG) of .048 is eighth-worst in all of Major League Baseball. He has yet to hit a home run and his only extra-base hits are three doubles, just 18% of his total hits.

As pitchers realize that Ruiz and the Phillies are more than happy to take the free pass, Ruiz will start seeing more strikes to hit. He has seen only 58% of his pitches for strikes, counting swings (both whiff and contact).

For now, everyone in Philadelphia is ecstatic with Ruiz’s exceptional plate discipline and selflessness.  He can have all the ice cream he wants.

Ibanez’s Bat Is Slowing Down

Raul Ibanez’s struggles through the first month of the 2010 season are well-documented. He has an OBP of .330 and a measly SLG of .350. Through May 3 last year, Ibanez had a .424 OBP and .733 SLG. From the time the soon-to-be 38-year-old returned from his groin injury in the second week of July ’09 through the end of the season, Ibanez managed just a .323 OBP and .448 SLG, indicating that his struggles predate this season.

In particular, it appears that Ibanez has struggled with the fastball. After posting a run value of 0.98 per 100 fastballs last year (carried heavily by his MVP-caliber first half), that has shrunk to negative 1.63 runs per 100 fastballs. He’s seen about 220 fastballs already, so he has been about negative 3.3 runs overall.

He has only muscled nine fastballs into the outfield, four of which have dropped in for hits: two in right-center, one in shallow center, and one down the left-field line.

By taking a look at his spray chart from the start of last year until his injury, we can see where a healthy and effective Ibanez typically hits the baseball.

The left-handed Ibanez mostly peppered left-center. That indicates that he was seeing the ball well and squaring it up properly and not swinging as a preemptive tactic against the fastball. Additionally, since he is not swinging preemptively and the fastball is traveling deeper in the strike zone, it indicates that Ibanez has enough bat speed to catch up to the fastball.

The following image shows his batted balls from the time he returned last year through yesterday.

He’s all over the place. More of his batted balls went from left-center towards the left field line. That indicates a slower bat. It also appears that he started pulling more balls down the right field line, perhaps a sign that he is swinging earlier to make up for a lack of bat speed.

It is not indicated on the graph, but the post-injury Ibanez has hit more than four percent more foul balls on fastballs than pre-injury Ibanez, 18.2% to 13.9%.

All of this could also be just one long cold streak. As David Cohen wrote at The Good Phight last year:

In the 36 games ending July 28, 2007, while Ibanez was playing for the Mariners, he hit .178/.228/.296 for a .524 OPS.  And yet, by the end of that year, he was on fire once again — hitting .366/.432/.655 for a 1.087 OPS with 11 home runs and 30 RBI — for the 36 games ending September 9.

He did this in Kansas City as well.  For the 36 games ending May 15, 2002, Ibanez was atrocious — .193/.224/.330 for a .554 OPS.  He hit 1 home run and had only 14 RBI.  This cold streak was sandwiched by two of Ibanez’s hottest streaks in his career, which I discussed earlier this year — his 36 games ending August 11, 2001 (.358/.475/.663 for a 1.138 OPS) and his 36 games ending July 19, 2002 (.364/.422/.803(!!) for a 1.225 OPS).

Whether it’s due to a random streak, mechanical problems, injury, or simply age, it is evident that Ibanez is having a lot of problems catching up to fastballs. While the Phillies have the National League’s second-best offense, if Ibanez can master the fastball again, the team would be less likely to go on cold streaks as they did April 17-27 when they averaged a meager three runs per game.

Thanks to Texas Leaguers for the great Pitch F/X spray charts.

Cardinals Series Preview: Erik Manning

As done Friday, the upcoming series with the St. Louis Cardinals will be kicked off with a short interview with a blogger. Erik Manning of the Cardinals blog Play A Hard Nine was nice enough to participate. You can find Erik at FanGraphs and on Twitter as well.

Given the brevity of prepare time, we settled on three questions apiece. You can find my responses here. His will follow.

. . .

1. My favorite page on Baseball Reference is that of Albert Pujols. He has simply put up remarkable numbers year in and year out. How much fun is it to watch him, and are you at all worried that he won’t be a Cardinal in the future?

It is extremely fun to watch Albert play the game of baseball. I’ve never seen another hitter quite like him; he’s supremely talented, and yet he doesn’t rest on his talents alone to carry him. He’s extremely intense and I think his hard work ethic is demonstrated by how good of a defender he’s become at first base.

Thinking about seeing him in anything else but a Cardinal uniform is enough to keep a person up at night. Albert seems to be talking out of two sides of his mouth right now. He is quoted as saying he wants to be a Cardinal for life, but yet when he’s been approached by the team about signing a life-long contract, he’s non-committal and says things to the press like “I’m not afraid of becoming a free agent”. He and Holliday could possibly account for about half the team’s payroll, which also is another concern. But if any one is worth $30 million per year, it’s Albert.

2. Game 7 of the World Series. Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright?

That is a very tough call, I think both pitchers are rougly about equally as good. I’m afraid my memory is tainted by last year’s NLDS against the Dodgers. Wainwright struck out 7 batters in eight innings, and allowed just a run on three hits and a walk. Carpenter lasted only five innings, and walked four, allowed nine hits, and was lucky to get out of the game having allowed just 4 runs. Outside of that rocky outing, Carpenter’s resume in the postseason is pretty good, but then again so is Wainwright’s. I’ll always cherish fond memories of Beltran caught looking in the 2006 NLDS. It’s a coin flip.

3. In Philadelphia, we obsess over Jayson Werth’s beard. It appears, in St. Louis, your equivalent is the mustache of Brendan Ryan. Can you relate the epicness of the mustache to those of us more in favor of the beard?

Brendan Ryan, nicknamed Boog, had himself one terrific cookie duster growing on his upper lip last year, but alas, he has since shaved it off. The good news is he can grow a new, crazier mustache in short order, and while spinning at that. I’m actually a big fan of the Werewolf. He’s from Springfield, Ill, and his grand-father Dick Shofield came up with the Cardinals and spent a good part of his career in St. Louis. I thought Werth was some good F.A.T. (freely available talent) when he was let go by the Dodgers, and I remember banging the drum for the Cardinals to sign him. My feeling on Werth proved correct, and the Cardinals ended up signing the underwhelming Juan Encarnacion.

. . .

Thanks to Erik for the education on mustaches. Oh, and the Cardinals. Here’s hoping the Phillies continue to hold Albert Pujols in check. After hitting 10 home runs in three seasons from 2005-07, he has hit only one and OPS’ed under .600 in each of the past two seasons.

As mentioned during the ESPN chat last night, I’m looking forward to seeing the Phillies lend a helping hand in the ERA regression of Brad Penny and Jaime Garcia, just as they did with Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana.